MARSEILLE: Euro 2016 was meant to be Paul Pogba’s tournament, putting the seal on what could be a world record setting transfer away from Juventus.
But Antoine Griezmann’s match-winning performances against Germany and Iceland have made him the darling of the host nation.
Pogba was expected to light up his maiden European Championship with the silky skills and long-range goals that have become his trademark at the Italian champions.
But he has not produced the goods even though talk of a big money transfer to Manchester United or Real Madrid is mounting.
The world’s most highly rated midfielder was mediocre in France’s first four games. Pogba nevertheless remains one of the most exciting players around and former France striker
Thierry Henry believes the best is yet to come.
“Forget about France, I think he can be one of the best midfielders in history. He has the quality to do that,” Henry told Sky Sports last week.
Pogba has shown only glimpses of the brilliant skills Juventus fans see each week.
Ahead of Euro 2016, Pogba featured on the front covers of magazines the world over, pledging to “become a legend” and “revolutionize midfield” when France seek to repeat their triumph of winning the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
With the transfer saga being played out in the background, France swept Romania and Albania aside then drew with Switzerland on their way to winning their group. But Pogba seemed absent.
Coach Didier Deschamps punished Pogba for a mediocre display and some unnecessary showboating in the 2-1 defeat of Romania by leaving him on the bench for their second group game against Albania.
In Marseille, Pogba replaced Anthony Martial for the second half when France were rescued by last-gasp goals from Griezmann and Dmitri Payet on their way to a 2-0 win.
Pogba made an arm gesture toward the media tribune celebrating a goal that some speculated was an irreverent gesture.
Pundits and fans debated whether Pogba had told his detractors, in no uncertain terms, where to go.
Deschamps gave him the benefit of the doubt. But former England striker Gary Lineker weighed in on Twitter asking: “Is Pogba the world’s most overrated player?”
It brought a thorny response the Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola, whose portfolio includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli among other top stars.
“When somebody gets paid to give their opinion, that doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about,” Raiola said.
“This is what has happened with Lineker.”
But few could disagree that over France’s opening games, Pogba was ineffective.
Worse, only two minutes into the knockout phase, a clumsy Pogba tackle in the area handed the Irish a penalty. Robbie Brady converted for a second-minute lead, before Les Bleus restored order with Griezmann’s second-half double.
France breathed a sigh of relief as they went through to the quarterfinals and, finally, Pogba came to the fore.
When his bullet header from Griezmann’s corner flew into the Iceland net to give France a 2-0 lead in an eventual 5-2 victory that sealed their semifinals clash with Germany, Pogba was mobbed by teammates.
And although Griezmann stole the show again with a brace of goals in Thursday’s 2-0 win over World Cup holders Germany, it took some fancy footwork from Pogba, and for Manuel Neuer to push his cross into the path of Griezmann, for the little forward to score.
Before the match Henry added: “He needs to make sure he concentrates on what he can do well.”
Ahead of Sunday’s finals at the Stade de France, Les Bleus’ fans will be hoping the same. AFP